Friday, November 20, 2015

Dark Side Die Hard: Star Wars Vader Down #1

The following is my review of Star Wars: Vader Down #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


It's the common theme that made Die Hard a successful movie franchise. It spawned a generation of sequels, rip-offs, and parodies, all of which failed to rekindle Sylvester Stallone's career. But it's a theme that still has undeniable appeal, a lone warrior surrounded by enemies having to fight their way out. It's Captain America trapped behind enemy lines surrounded by Nazis. It's Superman trapped in a subterranean cave surrounded by kryptonite-powered cyborgs. It's a classic underdog story in the mold of the Karate Kid and the Mighty Ducks, albeit with more guns and explosions.

But what happens when this classic setup is turned inside out and upside-down? What if it's the Red Skull who's behind enemy lines, surrounded by Captain America's friends? What if it's Lex Luthor trapped in the Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by cyborg Supermen? Does the story still have the same appeal? It's like rooting for the axe murderer in a slasher movie. It tests an audiences sensibilities in uncomfortable ways not seen outside a Marilyn Manson concert. And those are the exact sensibilities that Star Wars Vader Down #1 appeals to.

This isn't the hero escaping the villain. It's the villain escaping the hero. It's not the rebels beating the Empire against overwhelming odds. It's the Empire outwitting the rebels, snatching away a tantalizing sliver of hope. Like cheering for Ivan Drago in a Rocky movie, it sounds like one of those things we shouldn't enjoy. But it's that inverted nature which plays out in Star Wars Vader Down #1 that makes the story uniquely appealing.

It's a story that unfolds seamlessly from recent events in the Star Wars and Darth Vader comic series. However, neither of these books are required reading. Even if Star Wars: A New Hope is the only Star Wars movie you ever saw, you won't be lost at any point. You might be confused by the presence of a homicidal version of C-3PO in Triple-0, but in a good way.


The story feels organic in that it follows Darth Vader's pursuit of Luke Skywalker. He knows he's the one who destroyed the Death Star. He also knows Luke is his son. So he's more than a little motivated to hunt him down and kill anyone or anything that gets in his way, as one would expect of a Sith Lord. However, like diving into a mosh pit at a Metallic concert unprepared, this level of motivation leads Darth Vader into a situation much deadlier than most mosh pits.

Our decidedly unheroic Sith Lord arrives at Vorgas Vas where his secret ally/fangirl, Aphra, says Luke Skywalker has been holding up. It's a setting that has the same feel as a graveyard in a slasher movie in that it's a fitting location for everything to go horribly wrong. There aren't any promiscuous teenagers, but there are plenty of X-wings and space battles. For Star Wars fans, this is every bit as appealing.

Mike Deodato's art really shines here. It's not the Battle of Hoth, but it has the same intense feel. It's dark, detailed, and destructive, the three D's of every successful space battle. Darth Vader, making every character in Top Gun look like rookie, makes the Rebels pay a high price for getting in his way. Even though he's completely surrounded and has no Imperial support, he doesn't retreat or evade the danger. He shoots at it. If he could do it with a smile, he probably could. But being Darth Vader, he doesn't need to.

It's Darth Vader's utter tenacity and his cold attitude that makes him worth rooting for. It's not like rooting for the New England Patriots after another cheating scandal. It's a testament to just how powerful and dangerous Darth Vader really is. Throw an entire squadron of X-wings at him? Go ahead. Send a whole battalion to the planet? Do it. None of that matters. Darth Vader will still make it feel like an unfair fight and he doesn't need a rousing speech from Mel Gibson to rise to the occasion.


While Darth Vader's imposing tenacity is the main driving force of the story, the rest of the classic Star Wars cast play critical roles as well. Fittingly enough, it's Luke who delivers the shot that downs Darth Vader while the rest of his squadron act as glorified target practice. Princess Leia and Han Solo get involved as well once word gets out that the Rebels have a chance to take down Darth Vader. With the destruction of Alderan still fresh in Leia's memory, it's a given that she's every bit as motivated as Vader. It once again shows that being excessively motivated runs deep in the Skywalker family.

At no point does the pace slow down. At no point does the danger stop escalating. Even after Darth Vader crashes on Vorgas Vas, he keeps fighting. The Rebels have X-wings, troops, and tanks. Darth Vader has only a light sabre. And yet it still feels as fair a fight as anyone can hope to have against Darth Vader. In many respects, that is the greatest accomplishment of Star Wars Vader Down #1. It doesn't just invert every major Die Hard theme. It puts Darth Vader in a position where he has to show just how menacing he is.

There are times when you'll feel inclined to root for the rebels. There are times when you'll feel inclined to root for Darth Vader. But it never feels conflicted or forced. This isn't a matter of rooting for Jason Vorhees or against a virgin teenage girl. This is just a different kind of epic Star Wars battle. It might not involve a Death Star, but it feels every bit as epic and won't be decided by some obscure design flaw.

Final Score: 10 out of 10

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